found all over the east coast, and varieties of wild strawberries are, in fact, "circumpolar" which means they were and are found from all over the world with small differences.
American Indians mashed the "heart-seed berry" (They called it wuttahimneash.) and mixed the mash with meal to make strawberry bread. Would this be the source of strawberry shortcake?
The strawberries that we know, fresh from local crops, and the California berries that tempt us out of season, descend from an accident. Early in the 18th century the French sent an engineer, Frezier, to explore Chile's coast and he discovered large strawberries, which he later and inadvertently crossed with the American berry. (Frezier is pronounced the same as "fraisier," which means strawberry plant, and isn't that a wonder!) All this resulted, more or less, in the large California berries as we know them.
If the wild berries are associated with youth, today's large and luscious strawberries are associated with some of the more complex pleasures of adulthood. Long before Richard Gere gave Julia Roberts strawberries with champagne in Pretty Woman, one of Traverse's wine experts, Dan Hummell, told me that the reason French women nibble strawberries with champagne is that the combination prevents head aches in the morning.
Recently, during a particularly difficult time, I asked He-Who-Must-Be-Fed to grocery shop for the basics, bread, butter, eggs and so on. However, he hit a sale, strawberries in season and came home with five quarts. Berry by berry, I ate through them, sharing some and serving strawberries and cream (1/2-1/2 with a drop of vanilla or orange liqueur), or French style in red wine, on classic American cereals, with chocolate cake, sugared with chocolate candies, and a favorite a strawberry salad -- presented, sliced on baby lettuces (the ruffled red ones!), with a fruity vinaigrette. Times were better, and I didn't need champagne.
Country or city, adults lose the eagerness to get down to earth with pails to pick wild strawberries. Perhaps wild strawberries are the stuff of childhood, the work of innocents.
Sally Ketchum is a Michigan food journalist.
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